Tech woes greet MRT-3 commuters during soft launch of new contact tracing app

January 18, 2021 - 12:52 PM
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This composite photos show MRT passengers during the soft launch of its MRT-3 Trace contact tracing application on Jan. 18, 2021. (DOTr MRT/Facebook)

Some commuters of the Metro Rail Transit resorted to manually filling out contact tracing forms on Monday as the soft launching of its MRT-3 Trace app, promoted as BTS or “Bagong Tracing System” on social media, was initiated.

Reported tech woes

A business and transportation correspondent of News5 shared a picture of commuters on Monday morning and shared that he also tried to register using the app.

“I myself tried to register using the QR code posted on the station’s walls, but was redirected to a link that opens at my Notepad app,” Gerard de la Peña tweeted.

“I also tried to register at the MRT’s website but couldn’t get past the registration page. Other passengers, we have learned, were able to do so but it took time,” he added.

“After a couple of tries, I was able to register. But I couldn’t scan the QR codes on the wall because it says here I didn’t give permission for the app to use my camera. But I did. It just won’t work,” de la Peña further said.

He also accompanied each of his tweets with a screengrab of how his registration process went using MRT’s contact tracing app.

Other commuters also claimed of encountering similar problems with the app.

“Bakit sa North Ave station, manual pa rin kaninang 7:30 am?” a Twitter user asked in response to a tweet of DOTr showing pictures of the app’s soft launch.

“True that @Jeph1104. Kahit sa EDSA Taft Avenue ni hindi gumagana (‘yung) link ng QR or kahit (‘yung) website.
@dotrmrt3 @DOTrPH No one ever checks the QR thingy kasi it did not work,” another online user wrote in response to the previous user’s tweet.

Apart from the reported tech issue, another news correspondent shared that physical distancing was not thoroughly observed outside the train station’s platform due to the heavy volume of passengers.

Jervis Manahan of ABS-CBN reported the long queue in MRT North Avenue station a few minutes before 7 a.m., during the morning rush hour as people report to their respective workplaces.

The Department of Health said maintaining a distance of at least one meter, which is almost equivalent to a motorcycle’s length, is a must especially in public areas to mitigate the risk of the coronavirus disease transmission.

Digitization of contact tracing 

Last week, the Department of Transportation announced that MRT will digitize its contact tracing for passengers, months after other entities have resorted to using smartphone apps for efficient and non-physical contact tracing.

The app is called MRT-3 Trace but it was promoted as BTS, referencing the Grammy-nominated South Korean boy group BTS or Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates to “bullet proof boy scouts.”

RELATED: BTS is here: DOTr introduces ‘Bagong Tracing System’ ‘MRT-3 Trace’

“MRT-3 Trace is a web application that will help us and the passengers avoid further transmission of the virus through direct contact between our commuters and personnel. It will ease the process of contact tracing, and thus, prevent long queues in stations,” MRT-3 Director for Operations Michael Capati said last week.

The app is free but those who do not have a smartphone can manually fill out the health declaration forms provided by the security personnel upon entering the station.

On Sunday, the DOTr-MRT-3 management posted the QR code and other materials informing the public of the new contact tracing app, just a day before its soft launch.

The contactless tracing system will be fully implemented in February 2021.

Different from government’s StaySafe contact tracing app

A technology columnist from Manila Bulletin reported that the MRT management opted to launch its own contact tracing app different from the one used by the national government, StaySafe, because of the following:

“According to a spokesperson of the MRT-3, they opted to develop its own contact tracing app to gain quick access to data, which shall help the management to also quickly respond to scenarios such as confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among the passengers,” Robert ‘Bob’ Reyes wrote on January 15.

“They also said, that by developing this web app in-house, they will have the freehand to add features when the need arises. All data captured by the MRT-3 Trace app is stored in their data center,” he added.

“The MRT-3 Support Division also said that the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) of the MRT-3 Trace app will be added to their existing PIA for monitoring of employees and passengers with Beep Cards,” Reyes further said.